Saturday, December 31, 2016

A New Year: Giving Thanks For Black Eyed Peas And Fleas

The foam is forming on my soaking black eyed peas, and I can't help but adore the southern tradition of eating this particular food for good luck. Unlike most other 'lucky' dishes intended to bring financial wealth (collard greens for plenty of folding green, corn for the color of gold), black eyed peas represent something else entirely. Yes, money, wealth, everything cash can do for us is swell. But black eyed peas remind me of bigger things.

Black eyed peas were originally brought to the States from Africa on slave ships, sustaining this unbelievable population of survivors. This humble food fed slaves. Slaves. This is the flavor of unthinkable hardship, a food present during one of the most ghastly aspects of southern history. Eating black eyed peas places us at the same table as those who were never invited to share the same table.

Then, after becoming integrated into southern agriculture, black eyed peas were mistaken as cattle feed by the northern troops during the Civil War. Everything else was destroyed, but black eyed peas were ignored, and became sustenance for confederate troops. This represented luck in its purest form, after all, starvation can claim even the most convicted fighter. Try eating money.

My soaking black eyed peas remind me of other heavy times, times laden with injustice and oppression such as those during World War II. Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place was written to help us remember what these times looked like for the oppressed. Within the walls of Ravensbruck concentration camp, Betsie ten Boom (the author's sister) due to her unyielding faith, gave thanks for even the fleas infesting her room. It was later discovered the fleas themselves were the reason the Boom sisters and their fellow prisoners where spared from constant inspections and severity from prison guards who refused to enter their quarters.

In this current climate, with a New Year and the presidential inauguration at our door, black eyed peas give me pause. They remind me to be grateful for things I've forgotten. This cheap food, mistaken for animal feed, with enough nutritional and cultural strength to sustain individuals who went through generations of treatment so painful I wish I could turn my head from it, I am reminded to grip my fork, and everything in between, fiercely.

Looking at what is missing or what is going wrong is easy. Giving thanks in the midst of this is not. But, what makes us a united people? Perhaps eating together, from the same table? We were all born hungry. We all have to eat. There is common ground here.

It's not the extravagant that keeps us fed.  I am grateful for this. For black eyed peas. For a hope stronger than our bill folds. And yes, even for the fleas.


  1. This is an awesome post. Thanks for the powerfully thoughtful reflection. I did not know anything about the history of the black eye pea. Whoa. The rug that ties a room together.

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